Vincent Colyer, Freedmen’s Friend

A sketch Vincent Coyler’s New Bern headquarters

On March 31, 1862, Vincent Colyer was appointed Superintendent of the Poor for the Union’s Department of North Carolina. Stationed in the occupied town of New Bern, Colyer immediately set about employing African Americans as skilled laborers to work on fortifications for the town. He managed to have three sets of earthworks constructed during his brief tenure.

Colyer set up schools to educate the African Americans, but ran afoul of Edward Stanly, who was serving as the military governor of North Carolina. Stanly was under orders to restore North Carolina to the Union as it was before the Secession movement, and in Stanly’s view that meant that educating blacks was illegal. Colyer successfully appealed to Lincoln, who disagreed with Stanly’s stance.

Colyer produced a detailed accounting of his time as Superintendent that highlights the breadth of activities performed by African American men. In addition to having pioneering jobs, these men served as scouts and spies.

After the Civil War, Colyer became a successful artist, noted especially for his paintings of the American West.

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